Opinion Post from Guest Contributor, Leah Rocke
Last week Nine renewed Australian comedy Here Come the Habibs, which airs its first season finale tonight. The show was creating headlines before it even aired, as people decided that the show was racist after only having seen a 40 second promo.
Despite, or perhaps because of this, Here Come the Habibs premiered to nearly 1.25 million viewers on February 9, and was the second-highest rated show of the night behind My Kitchen Rules. The viewership for the show has steadily declined, which is the usual pattern for scripted shows, but it has kept an audience of over 500,000 viewers, and remained in the Top 20 shows for Tuesday nights. Renewing Here Come the Habibs made business sense for Nine, but it’s also a win for the Australian television industry as a whole.
There’s no shortage of locally produced sitcoms on free-to-air television, but Upper Middle Bogan, The Family Law and Please Like Me are all either on the ABC or SBS. Here Come the Habibs is the first sitcom to air on a commercial free-to-air network since Flat Chat in 2001, which also aired on Nine.
Since the beginning of this year’s ratings season, there have only been two original scripted shows on commercial free-to-air channels, Here Come the Habibs and Wanted on Seven. Wanted finished last week and has been replaced with The 7 Year Switch, and the timeslot for Here Come the Habibs will be home to Reno Rumble as of next week. The Australian Content Standard 2005 requires free-to-air networks to broadcast at least 55 percent local content. Recently however, that has come to mean reality television.
Reality television is fun, but there’s so much of it. It’s cheaper to produce than scripted fare, and it attracts high ratings, which means that networks are able to charge more for advertising. Most positions in the crew of a scripted television show can transfer to reality television: producers, directors, camera operators and editors. However actors and writers have been excluded from Australia’s increase in reality television.
There is some writing involved in reality television, but there’s much more in scripted fare. Nine’s initial order of Here Come the Habibs was risky because they hadn’t broadcast a sitcom in fifteen years. The show’s renewal is less so, because it was a ratings success. While the ratings declined throughout the season, the show’s success is evidence that Australians will watch a locally made sitcom on a commercial free-to-air network, and they’ll watch a show in which most of the cast isn’t white.
‘Multicultural’ programming mainly exists on SBS, and to a lesser extent the ABC. Here Come the Habibs has one of the most diverse casts on a commercial free-to-air network, and enough people watched it that Nine is bringing it back. Australians will watch a lot of reality programming this year, and maybe they’ll watch more locally produced dramas and comedies this year as well.
The renewal of Here Come the Habibs has allowed for the cast and crew to keep their jobs on this particular show. Hopefully the commercial networks see that Australian audiences have an appetite for scripted programming and begin to order more in the future.